Is burning the flag illegal? Believe it or not, the 1st Amendment protects the right to do so. This is considered symbolic speech, which is similar to a protest or political expression, and is protected by the 1st Amendment under freedom of speech/expression. Protesting the government because you disagree with decisions or policies isn’t illegal.
One of the most infamous instances occurred when a man named Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag outside a convention center. The 1984 Republican National Convention was being held there and he wanted to protest Ronald Reagan’s policies. He was arrested because of this act and put on trial. Texas courts convicted Johnson but he appealed, claiming his actions as “symbolic speech” and were protected by the 1st Amendment. His case was taken to the Supreme Court, they ruled in favor of Johnson. He exercised freedom of speech and the public being outraged at his actions wasn’t a reason to convict Johnson. People argued that he was disrespecting those who have fought for this country and were offended by his actions. Similarly people claimed the same things when more recently, NFL players started kneeling for the National Anthem protesting the racial injustice and police brutality prevalent in the United States. President Trump even made statements on the protest claimed that kneeling during the National Anthem should be illegal. The protest became about a lack of patriotism and respect for military. Although this caused a wave of anger among many, players were exercising their rights to freedom of speech.
America was built on rebellion to become a free country. Freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. Protesting is how we got here. Political expression is what makes this country great, not everyone agrees with the government and we can tell them that. Everyone has a voice and the right to express themselves under the 1st Amendment.
Branch, John. “National Anthem Protests Sidelined by Ambiguity.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Jan. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/sports/nfl-national-anthem-protests.html.
“From the Colonists to Kaepernick–NYU’s ‘First Amendment Watch’ on the History of Symbolic Protest.” Newswise = Smart News Connection, http://www.newswise.com/articles/from-the-colonists-to-kaepernick–nyu%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cfirst-amendment-watch%E2%80%9D-on-the-history-of-symbolic-protest.
History.com Staff. “First Amendment.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/first-amendment.